Updated: Sep 2, 2021
Looking back at my breastfeeding journey with my first baby is hazy; the heady mix of sleep deprivation and adrenaline from a fast birth makes it hard to remember everything in perfect detail. A very clear moment, captured in a photograph taken about an hour after he was born, shows me reclining on a hospital chair, half naked, with my new baby feeding, tummy down, legs splayed across my stomach like a frog. I wasn’t worried about the latch, what position he was in or whether my back was supported, we were just getting to know one another after a whirlwind first meeting. I was in oxytocin heaven.
The descent back to Earth was less euphoric! Little did I know then that, left to my own devices, I could have forgone the worry, mastitis and midnight meetings with Dr, Google…
Once we got home, my own expectations rang in my ears, drowning out the sound of my brand new maternal voice. Doubt crept in: “Surely he shouldn’t need to feed for this long?” Other noises, from very well-meaning family members, talked about him being overly hungry, not getting “enough” from me, ‘he needed something else to settle him so he would sleep for longer periods’. There was a lot of talk about putting him down and letting him settle himself which made me feel very uneasy. I was beginning to wonder if I had given birth to a tiny, defenceless baby or a cunning creature who was trying to pull the wool over my eyes.
Paralysed by inadequacy, I squeezed myself into a wired bra to feel less like a milk machine; made lunch for friends to feel more capable and rushed each breastfeed to look like I wasn’t indulging my baby. It didn’t take long for mastitis to take hold.
I made an appointment at Baby Café Tunbridge Wells (now part of Baby Umbrella) the day after I ignored all of my instincts.
The support I received from Jennie was a complete game changer. There was no judgement, no outdated 1950s rhetoric and no talk of failure. Her quiet and supportive approach was exactly what I needed. Empowering a new mother by giving her the right information to proceed on her own terms is an art form - one that the practitioners at Baby Umbrella have totally nailed. Jennie sat with me longer than any health visitor, midwife, friend or family member ever had, to support me during my most vulnerable moment. She wasn’t trying to promote an agenda; she just listened and gave me the tools I needed to unblock my breasts, and my mind.
I took my newfound knowledge home with me that day, crept into bed with my baby, and, after a lot of effort, time and patience, cleared my mastitis. Whenever the blockages reappeared, which happened several times during the first six months, I knew exactly what I needed to do. I went on to feed my son until he was 3.
Stories of early parenthood
One of the things parents often say when they’ve recently had a baby, and even more so when they've had a difficult journey, is why did nobody tell me that this was going to be so hard? Why did nobody tell me the truth about breastfeeding, or birth, or sleep, or the emotional transition, or the physical recovery? If I'd have known some of this, I could have prepared myself... and maybe I would have known better if something was wrong.
We'd like to start to tell some of these stories. Every story you will hear here is unique, but it can still be helpful when you’re going through a difficult experience to realise that you’re not the only person who's been through this, that someone else has been here before.
So we want to open up the floor to you all and give anyone who would like to a chance to tell their story of early parenthood - both the joyful parts and the challenges you faced. Not just the shiny story on Instagram or Facebook but the truth of the things that were beautiful and delicious and wonderful as well as the difficult things, the things you might have struggled with, the things you miss from your old life, the things you regret or you wish you'd known.
If you’d like to contribute to our stories of early parenthood we would be really happy to hear from you. We hope you enjoy it and do let us know what you think.